8 incredible facts about Mumbai

8 incredible facts about Mumbai

Unbelievable, jaw-dropping madness: And that's just everyday Mumbai

Mumbai is an incredible city. It’s been said before. Sometimes, the city itself seems alive, throbbing. The city is life itself. And like life, you never know what’s going to happen next.

Some incredible things, however, take place on a regular basis.

Some, we’re used to, and are well known, others not so much.

Spare a thought for those first-time visitors to the city, for everything they encounter, everything they come across, that’s too insane to be real, but totally is.

1. Multi-million-person street party: Ganesh Chathurti

Ganesh ChaturthiMillions of people with truck loads of statues head to the beach. Ganesh Chathurti, a 10-day Hindu festival occurring every year somewhere between mid August and mid September, and celebrated all over the country, begins with artists creating sculptures of the Hindu god Ganapati, from miniature hand-held effigies, to larger versions that can only be transported by vehicle.

These sculptures are then delivered to homes and public places all over Mumbai, to be venerated, and then, a few days later, borne along in a human procession, immersed in the nearest body of water.

The sheer scale of these final-day Ganapati immersions has to be seen to be believed.

Imagine a few million people, along with thousands of trucks loaded with statues and blasting music, singing and dancing through the streets, on their way to the nearest beach, river or tank -- in one single night.

Feel free to join in the celebrations to experience the phenomenon first-hand. 

Hitch a ride on a statue-carrying tempo, all the way to Juhu beach. Immerse yourself in the crowds and noise. 

At least everyone gets a free bath at end, if they haven’t managed to drown themselves along with their statues.

More on CNNGo: How Ganesha idols are made

2. Human pyramids: Dahi Handi festival

Human pyramid at Dahi HandiThe aim is to break a clay jar of curd.Speaking of crowded festivals and unbelievable sights, there’s the Krishna Janmashtami or Dahi Handi festival in late August.

Commemorating the birth of the Hindu god Krishna, the highlight of the festival involves groups or Govindas, forming human pyramids with the sole aim of breaking a clay jar filled with curd, suspended high in the air, for prize money amounting to hundreds of thousands of rupees.

In fact, lakhs of young people practice in groups for weeks, in the hope of breaking that pot.

Now while the crowds, music, singing, dancing, noise and free-day-pass on alcoholism are par for the course, the human pyramids are a sight to behold.

The lowest layer comprises as many people as possible, pressed against each other, forming a strong base which supports the layers above.

The other layers are made up of sturdy but light individuals, young men or women who can keep their balance and concentration.

For the people in between, their focus is three-fold; they need to guard against those below them, whose shoulders they stand on, those above them, who use them for support, and those climbing them to form still more layers.

It makes sense to have heavier people at the bottom, and lighter ones at the top. And the lone midget that gets to break the dahi handi is usually a child.

The record number of levels for a Mumbai group is said to be nine stories nigh. Their closest international counterparts are the Catalans, who, also fond of human pyramids, managed to get to 10 layers.

On festival day, most neighborhoods stage a dahi handi competition.

Feel free to stroll around, but avoid the falling bodies.

3. An ever-increasing backlog of cases: Mumbai High Court

Legal casesMore than 300,000 legal cases are still pending in Mumbai's courts -- some from 20 years ago. A city like Mumbai with a growing population and crime rate would have a decent justice system in place, wouldn’t it?

In what might come as a shock to Mumbai newbies, the city’s High Court is actually saturated with cases going as far back as 20 years ago, and then some.

And the backlog keeps increasing.

At last count, the number of pending cases was more than 300,000 including some 40,000 criminal cases.

Which actually mirrors the national legal situation, with in excess of 4 million pending cases in all the High Courts, and around 30 million pending cases in Trial, High and Supreme courts nationwide.

Believe it.

The chief cause of this seems to be the large number of vacancies for judges in high courts. Only two-thirds of the available positions are filled. My advice if you want to sue someone? Arbitration.

4. Sprawling slums and the rich-poor divide

Dharavi slumsMore than half of Mumbai's population lives in slums. I know, I know, what could I say about Mumbai’s slums that hasn’t already been spoken, written or sung about in articles, films or music videos?

Our slums have been analyzed, studied, investigated, dissected, condemned, saved, conserved, exploited and celebrated -- but there’s no denying their place on this list.

Dharavi, once Asia’s largest slum and housing nearly 300,000 people, and the slums in Kurla-Ghatkopar, Mankhurd-Govandi and Bhandup-Mulund -- all larger than Dharavi -- account for more than half of Mumbai’s 12.4 million people.

If the sheer enormity of the figure in that last statement doesn’t make you think, what will?

And here’s another Mumbai cliché that never fails to astound visitors -- the rich-poor juxtaposition.

Where else in the country, or the world, can you find slums or shanties, next to multi-million (and now multi-billion) dollar homes and hotels?

More on CNNGo: What Ratan Tata said about Ambani's megabucks mansion


5. Over-packaging international mail

A "package wallah" doing what he does best -- the medieval way.Ever tried sending an international package via the Indian Post Office?

You’d think all you needed was a bag or box, and tape? And then, just drop off your package at the post office? Wrong.

Our esteemed, reliable postal service has an unbelievable system that ensures your fragile items are packaged so securely, they’re bound to survive an asteroid attack.

And it’s compulsory.

Apart from filling out customs forms, the process involves visiting a "package specialist" at certain major post offices in the city, a man who sews your parcel in a cloth sack, sometimes sealing it with a wax stamp.

The entire process could take more than an hour, a far cry from the quick dash that characterizes mailing international parcels in foreign countries.

If you don’t have the time and want to skip the whole medieval process, you could pay more and use a courier service.

6. National park in the middle of the city

Sanjay Gandhi National ParkLeopards, deer and monkeys -- right in the heart of Mumbai. While most of Mumbai’s residents have come to take their share of green, i.e. the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, for granted, let’s not forget for a moment how unique it is.

We’re talking about a 104-square-kilometer park within a metropolitan area, dividing the western and central suburbs, forcing millions of people who travel between them, to go around the park.

We’re talking about a protected forested area that houses around 5,000 insect species, 1,000 plants species, 250 bird species, 40 mammal species, 38 reptile species, nine amphibian species and ancient Buddhist caves going back to the first century. That right.

The awesome creatures here include leopards, deer, crocodiles, snakes and monkeys.

In fact, Mumbai is the only city in the world to have a fully functioning national park with freely roaming large carnivores, within city limits. Enjoy it while you can.

More on CNNGo: Mumbai's island city: Less crowded than in 2001

7. Deadly railway system

Indian railwayTrains carry double the amount of passengers they should during rush hour. Spread over a 465-kilometer network, Mumbai’s trains carry almost seven million passengers a day.

And for those not in the know, things are far from perfect.

Mumbai’s railways have one of the highest passenger densities in the world.

During rush hours (it's hours here, not hour), around 500 people stuff themselves into train cars meant only for 188. That's about 14 to 16 people per square meter. That’s more than double the recommended figure.

The people in charge even have an official term for this -- Super-Dense Crush Load. 

More on CNNGo: 'Train surfing': Extreme stunts on moving Mumbai trains

As if this incredible little fact isn’t bad enough, around 3,000 people die in train related accidents each year. They either fall or are pushed off carriages traveling too fast or too full, or are injured while crossing railway tracks.

While figures like this would be enough to shut down a railway network in other countries, Mumbai’s locals roll on, incredibly.

More on CNNGo: It's finally time to love Mumbai local trains

8. Nothing fazes us

Leopold CafeThe landmark Leopold Café opened its doors to customers the day after it was targeted in Mumbai's 2008 terrorist attacks. Perhaps the one thing that other people find most unbelievable about Mumbai is the Mumbaikars themselves.

We’ve survived bad infrastructure, floods and repeated terrorist attacks, only to go back to work the very next day.

Not something you’d see in a lot of other countries, and something that continues to startle other people to this day.

There could be many reasons why we act this way.

Maybe we’re just used to events like these. Maybe we can’t afford to miss work. Maybe we don’t care enough. But we do act this way, and it’s unbelievable.

More on CNNGo: Tired of hearing about Mumbai's resilience to terror?

Daniel D'Mello currently lives and works in Mumbai, where he enjoys reading, writing, planning trips, taking photos, attending gigs, catching up on films and TV and taking a keen interest in animal behavior.

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